Top Attractions in Eilat
Lying at the very bottom of Israel, nestled on the coast of the Red Sea, lies the city of Eilat. Today, a premier vacation spot, it wasn’t always this way - indeed, until the 1970s it was nothing more than a quiet fishing village. However, as Israel became an increasingly popular tourist destination, this tiny spot began growing into the resort it is today - complete with luxury Eilat hotels, excellent cafes and restaurants, and all kinds of attractions.
Eilat Coral Beach, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Year-Round Sun and Year-Round Fun!
And with its year-round warm climate, it’s the perfect place for anyone (Israeli or tourist) to head if they’re seeking sunshine, beaches, warm waters and plenty of fun, both for kids and adults. The Eilat weather is a big draw too - in the winter months, temperatures are extremely pleasant (between 21 and 25 degrees in the day), which makes it an ideal place to escape grey winter climes. And in the summer, even though it’s the hottest spot in Israel, it’s still a popular place to head for some ‘R&R’...
Long Weekends and Chillout Vacation in Eilat
Since Israel’s a small country, travelling the length and breadth of it is not too difficult. Eilat is within easy travel distance of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where many tourists spend their time. Public buses run regularly (and are inexpensive), driving down from the centre of Israel to the tip will take around 5 hours and flying directly between Ben Gurion airport and Eilat Ramon airport is circa 45 minutes. So it really is a place you can visit for a long weekend!
Below we’re taking a look at some of the most popular things to do in Eilat, from water sports to camel riding, jeep tours and hiking in the nearby mountains, and even hopping over the border to Jordan, to visit the lost city of Petra or explore the fascinating Wadi Rum desert, made famous by Larence of Arabia.
Reefs at Eilat Coral Beach, Israel. Photo credit: © Assaf Zvuloni. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
1. Underwater Observatory Park
For anyone interested in marine life (young or old) this has got to be on your list of ‘must see’ things in Eilat. The Underwater Observatory Park is a fantastic way to learn about life under the sea without even getting wet, and there are enough displays inside to keep you occupied for ages! There are over 35 aquariums (with more than 800 species of rare fish and marine creatures), some of them only found in Eilat!
Kids also love the ‘Shark Pool Complex, where - as they walk through a transparent tunnel - it's possible to gaze at these astonishing creatures, up close and personal! The observatory is also home to manta rays, giant turtles, jellyfish and even the Googly-Eyed Glass Squid. It’s hard to believe that you’re just six metres below sea level, as you watch so many species in their natural habitat. For an additional cost, you can also take a trip out in one of their glass-bottomed boats, or visit the ‘Aquadome’ and learn more about the humpback whale. Wow…
2. Eilat Coral Beach Nature Reserve
The Eilat Coral Beach nature reserve is also a national park and the northernmost shallow-water coral reef in the world. Extending for 1,200 metres off the coast of Eilat, it is an ideal place for snorkelers and divers to explore marine life - its delicate natural habitat is full of colourful fish as well as astonishing plants. On land, the beach is well cared for and the nature reserve guards helpful, the showers and restrooms are clean and pleasant and there’s also a snack bar. Underwater enthusiasts…this attraction is for you!
People getting ready for snorkelling at Eilat Coral Beach, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
3. Dolphin Reef in Eilat, Israel
Eilat’s ‘Dolphin Reef’ has got to be on your bucket list - it’s a magical, extraordinary and unique way of enjoying a few hours with these magnificent creatures, watching them frolic and swim that’s not just natural but also belongs to them. The ‘reef’ is home to a number of bottlenose dolphins (as well as their offspring) who ‘choose’ to live here (i.e. there are no nets to keep them in). The owners have done this deliberately, to foster the idea that the bond created between visitors and dolphins is truly authentic.
Once you’ve entered, there’s a secluded beach, hammocks and structures where you can sit and wait for the dolphins to appear - some will swim up to you, so you can actually pet them. It’s possible to sit very close by and watch, as they are fed. It’s also a wonderful place to relax, with a book, or a drink from the beach bar, staring out at the Red Sea.
It’s possible to snorkel in the area (and there’s plenty to see) and for the truly hooked, there’s also the opportunity to dive with the dolphins…you’ll get a wetsuit and flippers and be taken out by a professional. The Dolphin Reef is perfect for a day out - whether you’re a family with young children, a couple who are looking for something romantic to do or simply someone who loves these intelligent and adorable animals.
Dolphin Reef Beach, Eilat, Israel. Photo by Silviu Georgescu on Unsplash
4. Camel Riding in Eilat, Israel
Taking a camel ride is something many people dream about when planning a trip to Israel. Well, just a few kilometres from Eilat’s the Red Sea are mountains and deserts, so this is a no brainer. The ‘Eilat Camel Ranch’ offers visitors the chance to take a journey through the Arava desert, enjoying clean air, panoramic views and tranquillity.
The silence as you trek is extraordinary - and all the camels they use are female (apparently more well-behaved than the males!), well-fed and trained, and very friendly. Visitors can choose from four different treks - we’d recommend the two-hour sunset ride, with a cheese platter to follow! P.S. For serious adrenalin junkies, they also offer a ‘Rope Line’ which consists of 700 metres of routes, including swings, climbing nets and ziplines.
5. Snorkelling and Diving in Eilat, Israel
Eilat is a veritable paradise for anyone who likes to snorkel or dive. All the way down from Coral Beach nature reserve to the border with Egypt is full of coral and just a few metres down, you’ll be able to see as much as if you were 30 metres below! When you dive in Eilat, you can also walk straight into the water - so no boat is necessary.
Freediver-girl snorkelling across the sea. Photo by Israel Gil on UnsplashBecause the water is so clear, in one short dive you might see a host of tropical fish and dolphins besides! Although Israel only has a tiny part of the Red Sea (compared to other surrounding countries), it’s pretty magical. If you’ve already passed your test and have a PADI licence, it’s very easy to rent tanks and other equipment from one of the many dive centres in the area. You can, of course, just dive with your buddy but there are many trained guides who can take you out to spectacular places, including some wrecks.
Two of the best of the wrecks, we think, are Satil and Yatush. Satil was an Israeli navy speedboat from the 1960s, and today is home to numerous schools of fish. You can explore the missile launching area, the bridge and the engine room. Yatush is deeper down (around 28 metres), so you’ll have less time to spend there, but that gives you ample opportunity to enjoy the tropical fish and corals when you descend.
Prepare to be overwhelmed - Eilat’s waters contain so many species, including triggerfish, clownfish, butterflyfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, frogfish, sea snakes, moray eels, octopus and barracuda. Some lucky divers might even spy a whale shark in the summer months. And because the water is so clear, you won’t feel deprived if you’re simply snorkelling, rather than diving. Grab those fins, masks and tanks…
Red sea, Eilat, Israel. Photo by Vitaliy Paykov on Unsplash
6. Jeep Tours in the Mountains
If you’re the adventurous type, then we’d definitely recommend a jeep tour into the Eilat mountains, with a 4x4 vehicle. Driven by a professional and knowledgeable guide, you’ll spend several hours exploring desert landscapes in the Eilat Mountains, including the Red Canyon, Doum Palms, Ein Evrona Nature Reserve, Wadi Raha, and the Flamingo Pools. If you go later in the day, you may also be able to spot animals that only come out into the desert once the sun sets…
7. Visit Jordan - Petra, Wadi Rum & Aqaba
Eilat is just a hop, skip and a jump from the border with Jordan, so why not consider making a trip to one of Israel’s neighbours? Jordan’s most popular attraction, by any stretch of the imagination, is Petra, which - located in the south of the country - is just two hours drive from the border, making a day trip to this Lost City quite possible.
Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo by Lior Dahan on UnsplashIf you take a Petra tour and leisure day in Eilat, you can combine fun and history! After sunbathing, coral reef exploration and some cocktails at sunset, spend the next day exploring this Nabatean gem, complete with Treasury, Monastery and rose coloured rock formations.
Wadi Rum - this astonishingly beautiful dessert is also known as the ‘Valley of the Moon’ and is a valley cut into sandstone rock and granite. It was made famous by Lawrence of Arabia and is home to caves, canyons and springs. It is a great destination for adventurous travellers, since you can hike, rock climb, take 4x4 jeep tours and horse rides. It’s also popular to sleep there in Bedouin camps, where traditional dinners are provided.
Aqaba - Just a 12-minute drive from the Yitzhak Rabin border, Aqaba makes an ideal day trip. Like Eilat, it’s situated on the Red Sea and offers the visitor an interesting combination of city life, beach life and history. Like its neighbour, it’s also a good place to enjoy water sports and sunbathing and there are also plenty of shops, as well as places to eat authentic local food.
Al-Khazneh (The Treasury), Petra, Jordan. Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash
8. Desert exploration
There’s plenty to see in the nearby desert including:
Timna, one of the Arava desert’s most popular attractions and no wonder. About 25 km north of Eilat (a short drive, by bus or rental car), it sits in 15,000 acres in a valley shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by dramatic steep cliffs.
As you hike around, you’ll see wondrous rock formations, naturally formed millions of years ago (look out for ‘the mushroom’) as well as an ancient copper mine. Unbelievably, there’s also a lake (yes, a lake!) at which you can take shade.
Yotvata Hai-Bar - About 35 minutes drive from Eilat (by bus or car) lies the Hai-Bar, a phenomenal nature project, designed to bring back animals to this area that were once extinct in Israel (particularly the Arabian oryx and Asian wild ass). Spread out over 3,000 acres, it is home to snakes, Griffon vultures, sand cats and even spotted leopards.
The Hai Bar is divided into three areas. The first is where herbivorous creatures live, the second includes carnivores such as wild cats, hyenas and leopards (as well as birds of prey and lizards/snakes) and the third is a darkroom area, where you can watch creatures in their nocturnal state (such as bats). Because the reserve is open only during the day, the hours are reversed, so you will see activity!
Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
9. Hiking in the Red Canyon, Israel
The Red Canyon provides hikers with an easy and accessible trek, with the ‘classic’ trail just 2 km (which means you can take kids along). Just a 20-minute drive north of Eilat, it gives you the opportunity to enjoy natural canyons. Named because when the sun hits the sandstone, it turns a reddish colour, it’s amazing to think that these rocks were carved by wind and water over thousands of years.
Our tip: if you want a hike that’s a little more challenging, follow the ‘black trail’ (which goes along two creeks and affords wonderful photo opportunities). This trail should take about 1 hour 30 minutes to complete.
10. Shopping in Eilat, Israel
When all else fails, why not go shopping? Eilat has a reputation for being the cheapest place in Israel to shop - that’s because it’s in a free trade zone which is exempt from VAT. This means that prices here are very competitive, so whether you’re in the market for beach attire, Judaica, Dead Sea products or Medjool dates from one of the nearby kibbutzim, the bill is most likely going to be cheaper than anywhere else in Israel. Get out your wallet!
Moutains near Eilat. Photo by Gregory Atkats on Unsplash